The German concentration camp in Lublin, called Majdanek, was initiated by Heinrich Himmler’s decision. Visiting Lublin in July 1941, Himmler entrusted Odilo Globocnik, the SS and police commander in the Lublin district, with building a camp “for 25-50,000 inmates who would be used to work in SS and police workshops and at construction sites”. The camp was going to be the source of a free workforce for the Third Reich's expansion in the East.
Initial plans concerning the size of the camp were modified a couple of times, with the area of the camp and the planned number of prisoners being enlarged each time. The so-called “general construction plan” to build Majdanek was authorized on 23 March 1942. According to its assumptions, the camp would have the capacity of keeping 150,000 prisoners. Thereby Majdanek was to become the largest camp in the German-occupied Europe. However, economic difficulties and the Wehrmacht's failures on the eastern front prevented the SS from fulfilling this plan completely.
The Majdanek camp was subordinate to the Concentration Camps Inspectorate (Inspektion der Konzentrationslager), and from March 1942 to the Economics and Administrative Department of the SS (SS-Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungshauptamt). The camp was administered by a commandant supported by a garrison of up to 1,200 people. The camp commandant' position was held respectively by: Karl Otto Koch, Max Koegel, Hermann Florstedt, Martin Weiß, and Arthur Liebehenschel.
The camp, built from autumn 1941, was initially called Kriegsgefangenenlager der Waffen SS Lublin – a camp for prisoners of war, and in February 1943 was renamed Konzentrationslager Lublin – a concentration camp. The official functions of a POW camp and concentration camp did not exhaust the tasks allocated to Majdanek by the German authorities. Konzentrationslager Lublin was also a link in the realisation of the “Final Solution of the Jewish Qestion". In addition it was used as a penal and transit camp for the Polish rural population.
The camp, situated in the south-eastern suburbs of Lublin, on the road to Zamość and Lwów, occupied an area of 470 ha. It consisted of three sectors: the SS sector, the economic sector, and the prisoner camp (Schutzhaftlager), which was made up of five prisoner fields with wooden barracks as the accommodation for inmates. Their primitive construction, the lack of basic sanitation, and the overcrowdedness contributed to the growing mortality rate in the camp. The situation was made even worse by the shortage of water, food, clothes, and medicines. Certain improvement in the living conditions took place almost at the end of Konzentrationslager Lublin's history. In October 1942, the first females were detained as the camp for women was established at field V. Although the plan to create a camp for children at Majdanek was never realised, some Jewish, Belarusian, and Polish children from the Zamość region were also imprisoned at the camp. On the grounds of Konzentrationslager Lublin there was also a field hospital for the former Soviet soldiers that became invalids during their service for Germany. Majdanek additionally had several sub-camps including two labour camps in Lublin (Flugplatz on the grounds of the former Plage-Laśkiewicz airport and aircraft factory), and in Lipowa Street; as well as the labour camps in Budzyń, Radom, Bliżyn, and KL Warschau.
Prisoners came from nearly 30 countries. The former citizens of Poland dominated (mainly Polish Jews and Poles) but there were also many prisoners from the Soviet Union, Slovakia, and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Apart from Poles and Jews, the Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians constituted the largest groups of inmates. Other nationalities included smaller numbers of inmates from France, Belgium, Germany, Norway, Italy,
From the very beginning of their detention at the camp, the prisoners were inevitably accompanied by hunger, fear, backbreaking work, and diseases. For all real or even alleged offences, the inmates were severely punished and persecuted. Prisoners’ lives were constantly threatened. They died in the aftermath of wretched living conditions, they were executed and murdered in gas chambers. Among an estimated 130,000 prisoners who entered Majdanek, 80,000 people perished at the camp according to the most recent research. Among them, the greatest number of victims included the Jews from various countries (about 60,000), Poles, Belarusians, Ukrainians, and Russians. In order to remove the crime evidence, the victim's corpses were burnt on pyres or in the crematoria.
The history of the German Nazi concentration camp in Lublin came to an end on 22 July 1944. Soon, a Soviet NKWD camp was organised for the members of the Polish underground (Home Army and Peasants' Battalions soldiers) on the grounds of Majdanek. Some German POWs were also imprisoned for some time in the former camp barracks.